Juliet McKenna Answers Six Questions

Tell us your biography in three sentences or fewer.

I was born in Lincoln and after my parents divorced, we moved to Dorset, so I don’t really feel I’m ‘from’ anywhere in particular. Myth, history and SF/Fantasy were always points on the same fascinating spectrum as far as I was concerned, and studying Classics was the best way for me to combine those interests in a university degree in Oxford. After working in personnel management and bookselling, I’ve been able to combine a writing career with raising a family.

How and when did you begin writing, and what was your first published piece?

I can’t remember when I wasn’t making up stories. I would tell my brother fantastical tales after lights out in our bedroom, before I could actually write. These days I do wonder how much he was actually listening… My first published work would have been pieces in my secondary school magazine, if that counts. My first commercially published piece was my debut novel, The Thief’s Gamble, in 1999. That came after a decade or so of attempting to write The Definitive Fantasy Blockbuster Masterwork. I finally realised that no amount of rewrites would improve a massively overlong and derivative ‘youth leaves home’ saga, so I binned that and started again with a blank page and a fresh idea that I wasn’t seeing anywhere else.

What’s so special about writing speculative fiction?

It takes us somewhere else, whether that’s to another time, another place or both. That gives us a new viewpoint, where we can see where we have come from far more clearly, as the writer explores whatever concerns underpin their fiction. Because it’s a story and therefore entertaining/thrilling/intriguing/scary/whatever, the writer can draw the reader into that exploration. Doing that with non-fiction facts and figures is far more of a challenge for all concerned.

What life skills and experiences, other than writing, do you bring to your work?

Time management and being a self-starter. At school and university, getting top marks in my studies  meant applying bum to chair and eyes to books and getting on with it whatever the distractions. That got me to Oxford University from a UK state school, where I learned critical thinking and analysis, and how to structure theories and arguments for essays. This all turns out to be extremely useful training for finding new approaches to classic story themes and for structuring plots. Since students read their essays aloud to tutors at Oxford, and will be subjected to immediate and rigorous critique, I’ve never had a problem being constructively edited, and can take an objective approach to reviews. Combining writing with being a parent honed my time management skills even more!

Tell us about your most recent publication or current writing project

My most recent novel is ‘The Green Man’s Silence’, the third in my series of contemporary fantasies drawing on the folklore and myth of the British Isles. This time Dan’s out of his comfort zone in more ways than one. There’s something going wrong in the East Anglian fens, where the oak trees were felled aeons ago and water rules the landscape. It involves the sizeable extended family of the girl Dan’s been dating and would like to see a lot more of, but as the only son of a dryad and another only son, he doesn’t have much experience with relatives.

I also wrote a novella last year, for ‘The Tales of Catt and Fisher’ anthology set in the world of the ‘After the War’ books written by Adrian Tchaikovsky and Justina Robson. Working in an existing world is always a fascinating creative challenge, and I really enjoyed getting back to high magic and epic fantasy, especially with this particular setting’s thought-provoking twists.

What’s next?

July 2021 will see my short story ‘Old Gods, New Tricks’ in the ZNB anthology ‘The Modern Deities’ Guide to Surviving Humanity’. Incidentally, writers should keep an eye on this US small press’s kickstarters and their calls for submissions. Their themed anthologies are always a great mix of established voices and debuts.

The Green Man’s Challenge will be published in the autumn. That’s currently being edited, and everything’s going very smoothly, I’m happy to say. I also can’t wait to see what fantastic artwork Ben Baldwin comes up with this time. In other artwork news, Sophie Tallis is drawing a new map for The Aldabreshin Compass books, as Wizard’s Tower Press prepares new hardback and paperback editions of those. At long last, I’ve written a fourth and final short story to conclude the ‘Quartering the Compass’ companion narrative to the Aldabreshin series that I started ages ago! 

About Jacey Bedford

Jacey Bedford maintains this blog. She is a writer of science fiction and fantasy (www.jaceybedford.co.uk), the secretary of Milford SF Writers (www.milfordSF.co.uk), a singer (www.artisan-harmony.com) and a music agent booking UK tours and concerts for folk performers (www.jacey-bedford.com). She's also a Home Office / UK Visas and Immigration department licensed sponsor processing UK work permits (Certificates of Sponsorship).
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